First show your skills, then present the wish list
Published: April 22, 2022
When is it best to discuss your wishes in demands during an application process?
Already in the application documents, during the interview, the salary negotiation or only once you do have the job?
I spend the first nice October day at the IHK in Munich. That´s where the first event of the “Familienpakt Bayern” takes place. Partnership is the topic of the day. “So that family work is no longer only for women. Instruments are being presented for a better compatibility of family and work- for women, but particularly also for men.”
The lecture theatre is filled with HR professionals from small and large Bavarian companies. I see Audi, I see MAN trucks, travel enterprises and many more. Some chairs are taken by freelancers, coaches and young start-ups, who want to help companies to implement family-friendly working models. The room is almost completely filled, it´s hard to find a free chair. It seems like there is something happening in the German society. It seems that also German companies now start to appreciate that the classical life plan, in which men work 40+ hours and women take the sole responsibility for the family, is being replaced by a more even distribution of paid and unpaid work. A societal change which I warmly welcome.
The presentations are interesting, I am particularly impressed by Volker Baisch of Väter gGmbH. He starts by telling about what led him to found his company. He was working in a leadership position and wanted to take parental leave for a year after the birth of his daughter, so that his wife could go back to her job. His own boss replied to his plan with a plain answer, “Splendid idea, but I guess you won´t be coming back, right?” It didn´t seem to make Volker Baisch too sad though. Maybe because it´s already more than 10 years ago. But maybe also because it led him to find his passion in something else. And that´s precisely the feeling he transfers to his audience. On top of that, he also brings along lots of interesting statistics about the German workforce. 91% of all employees between 25 and 39 years of age find family-friendly workplaces at least as important as salary and 75% would even change companies for it.
Bernt Gade, who took his wife´s name, from Deutsche Bank is the next speaker. He works in higher management and already since a few years in part-time. Three afternoons per week he stays at home with his kids. Of course he can be reached if something goes really wrong at work. His kids will need to navigate the death bridge over the playground by themselves in the meantime. For his part-time leadership it was crucial that he already worked for three years at Deutsche Bank before he reduced his hours. His employer thus already knew what he was worth.
Then Sofie Geisel, project leader of “Erfolgsfaktor Familie” steps on the podium. Of course, many of her colleagues work flexibly. However, that´s not always easy for her as a boss, she is explaining. When everyone is working in their own schedule, it´s difficult to arrange meetings.
During the podium discussion she is participating in, all the progressive bosses on the table seem to agree, “Home office? Of course! As long as the work allows it, the employer even saves space. HOWEVER, not from day 1 on. That would be naive.”
On my way home, my thoughts drift back to the discussions- “Flexibility YES. But not from day 1.” And that´s exactly the point at which many young parents (mostly the mothers) are facing the biggest struggles when searching for jobs. They don´t have- or at least they feel like that- the chance to gain credit with their new employer by starting full-time in the office. The kids are already there and need a mum or a dad to pick them up from childcare in time. They want reduced or flexible hours, or home-office possibilities from the first day. This is why they already ask for this during the job interview and elaborate on their limitations, “I won´t make it before 9:00, as the kindergarten doesn´t open before 8:00.” The hope seems to be that the employer adjusts to their wishes from the first day on. However, these people would in this instance rather be seen as “extra hassle”, effort that has to be put into an employee, whose strengths are still unknown. In other words, details of the contract are already being discussed before there is even a job offer on the table. In case your qualification is well sought-after and you excel with your personal skills, this might even work out for you. But if you are an average natural scientist, trained at purifying proteins like at least 100 others in the pile of applications, then the interview is the wrong moment to flash your wish list. First you´ll need to prove yourself in a position, as Bernt Gade did, or at the very least have an offer in hand, before meetings will be rescheduled to suit your wishes.
I recently spoke with a lady who applied at a big pharmaceutical company. Already in the first interview round she said that she could only work until 4 pm, in order to be able to pick up the kids in time. The conversation ended abruptly as finishing before 5 pm would not be possible at all at this employer. She was sad, as she´d like to work, even full time and this would have been the “perfect job” for her. She could have used the laptop in the evenings, also starting earlier would have been possible for her, but she never got a chance from her dream employer.
A friend of mine applied at precisely the same company, also for a position as natural scientist. She didn´t mention her kid, nothing, nada, and worked for one year full time. Her husband went on parental leave, the grandparents were activated and she could start with her probation period. Back then she told me she wouldn´t dare to ask for part time or flexible arrangements. At this employer… never! She fully concentrated on her new position and showed how good she really is. Last week I did ask her, “How is it with family-friendliness? How is it to work for your new employer?” To my astonishment she told me- “you won´t believe it anyway Karin”- that this would be the best employer ever! Everything to do with compatibility would be possible. All forms of part time, home office, extra free days during school holidays, even a nanny can be organised. “They almost do a bit too much for their employees, I think,” she concluded her enthusiastic report.
Dear ladies and gentlemen, many companies do have the topic compatibility high on their agenda nowadays. They want to participate, they have to participate. And they were indeed all there, in order to inform themselves at the IHK and to exchange information.
You will receive the flexibility you wish for in the near future. However, you first need to put in some “down payment” and sport your skills and your “familiy flexibility”.
Interested to learn more about the job application process? You might be interested in our talk Score your first job: the application phase or our workshop Job application and interview strategies for scientists.